Warwickshire lure too strong for Allan Donald
Mar 7 2008 By George Dobell, Chief Cricket Writer
He had the world at his feet. He had his pick of coaching jobs, his pick of media jobs and the opportunity to remain in warm South Africa.
Yet Allan Donald chose to return to Edgbaston. The least glamorous, lowest profile and least well paid of the options. He chose English winters, second division cricket and a team that has, in his words, "been hammered" for the last couple of years. And he’s loving it.
"It really doesn't get any better than this," he says as he sips a pint in a Harborne pub and ponders his new position.
"Warwickshire is the only place I've experienced loyalty. I’m excited to be working with Ash [Ashley Giles], to be working with the first team and to be back at Edgbaston. I was 18 when I first came to Edgbaston and pretty much grew up here. I’m home."
His return is an enormous coup for Giles. After a successful stint as England’s temporary bowling coach last summer, Donald was offered the job full time. It seemed to be the culmination of everything for which he had worked, yet the call of Edgbaston proved stronger. Though titled ‘bowling coach’ he is, in effect, first team coach, and will be the only member of staff at every first team game this season.
"To be honest with you, I wouldn’t have taken the England job even if this role at Warwickshire hadn’t come up," Donald says. "Working with the England team was fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed it and feel I made a positive impact. And, I have to say, the ECB were brilliant. They are a highly professional organisation and, in many ways, everything about the job was great.
"But I’ve been on the road for years. At some stage you have to put the family first. I want to see my children grow up.
"The thing with the media is, you still have to do the travelling. Besides, I’m more at home in tracksuit and shorts than I am with microphone and tie. I’m not saying I won’t do more in the future, but I’ve no plans at the moment."
It was noticeable last summer that Donald somehow managed to coax something approaching the best out of the mercurial pair, Steve Harmison and James Anderson. Harmison, in particular, is clearly a special talent, but infuriatingly inconsistent. So how did Donald do it?
"He needed confidence," Donald replies. "He needed to feel appreciated. I've never seen a cricketer as low as he was. He came off the field in the Test at Old Trafford [against West Indies] and told me he was scared. It was so sad."
And does he bowl enough? "All bowlers are different," Donald says diplomatically. "But I always felt I needed to bowl and I think Steve is the same."
The example of Harmison is interesting, as Warwickshire now have in their ranks a bowler of similar stature. Boyd Rankin may be raw and unproved, but he has it in him to be an international bowler of the highest class. If Donald is successful in unlocking Rankin’s potential, Warwickshire and England will benefit.
"He’s very exciting," Donald agrees. "I asked him the other day if he knew just how good he could be. I think he does. I wouldn't like to face him, I can tell you.
"He reminds me of ‘Freddie’ [Flintoff]. He can be that sort of bowler. He’s also had a couple of the same technical issues. We’ve been working on opening Boyd up a bit, changing the direction his foot faces when he bowls and getting him a bit less sideways on. Not only will it make him quicker, it will help him avoid injury.
"'Freddie' will have to do the same thing. It's not that big a change, but it will make a huge difference."
Donald’s views on coaching are interesting. Though he is qualified to Level Three standard, he is somewhat sceptical about the worth of coaching badges and feels the game is over complicated by some.
"There's a tendency to over-analyse in England," he says. "There are too many lap-tops involved in coaching. Sure, there's a place for that, but players don’t need to be thinking about their technique halfway through a Test Match. It’s a simple game and I don’t want to over-complicate it. It’s music to my ears to hear Ash say the same sort of things."
Rankin apart, Donald is reluctant to single out those who have impressed him most at Edgbaston. He does name 19-year-old Chris Woakes as one to watch, but is generally encouraged by the strength in depth he has found.
"It’s difficult when a team has been hammered for a couple of years," he says. "But there is a good spirit emerging and I’d like to think the team will have that cockiness you need by the start of the season.
"I was around enough last season to see how low people were. I mean that decision to leave Ian Bell out of the side for the semi-final . . . that was ridiculous. But they’re a good bunch and you can feel spirits rising already.
"Monde Zondeki should be a good signing, too. He used to be a bit wayward, but he’s a much better bowler now. He'll operate in the high 80s, pitch it up and swing the ball; a bit like Dale Steyn.
"The only problem is, he’s very close to the South Africa team. One injury and he’ll be in."
To some extent, it’s surprising to hear Donald talk about the loyalty he has felt at Edgbaston. After all, he was shunned by the club three times over the years. Tony Merrick, Tom Moody and Brian Lara were all preferred to him as an overseas player at various stages, while the treatment of Bob Woolmer at the end of 2002 could also have left a sour taste. But the good times clearly out-weighed the bad and it’s the happy memories that linger.
"There was a great spirit with those teams," he says. "We laughed a lot. We enjoyed each others’ company. It meant something to play for the team. You don’t get that everywhere — I’ve not experienced it in South Africa — and it is a special club.
"It was a shame the way things ended here for Bob. He said to me that he thought the club had got tired of winning. Maybe they just felt they needed a fresh face? I think he felt shafted though and it did upset him a great deal."
Edgbaston was, of course, also the scene for Donald’s lowest moment on the pitch. That run-out to the final ball of the semi-final of the 1999 World Cup, where he dropped his bat and consequently allowed Australia into the final.
"You know, no one ever asks me about the four wickets I took in that game," Donald says with a hint of the stare that kept opening batsmen awake a night for more than a decade.
"I’m not hiding from it. I’ve re-watched the incident a thousand times. We were the best team at that World Cup and we knew it. We should have won. It’s hard to take. Yeah, I still think about it.
"Bob and Hansie were brilliant after that. I felt awful coming back into the dressing room. I felt every eye on me. But they immediately came to me and said I should never have been in that position. They said it wasn’t my fault.
"I received loads of threatening letters from South Africa. I was abused when I left the ground. That’s the way some people are in South Africa. As I say, Edgbaston is the only place I’ve experienced loyalty."
It seems odd that he’s coached so little in South Africa. Though he admits that leading bowlers have phoned him and requested help, he is anxious not to tread on the toes of those charged with their coaching.
"I just don't feel welcome [in the South African set-up]," he says. "It's a shame, because I want to help them and I think I could make a real difference."
South Africa's loss is Warwickshire's gain.